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THE LATINS STORM LAS GRANDES LIGAS
Robert H. Boyle
August 09, 1965
The night was black in Santo Domingo. It was after curfew, and warring troops patrolled the streets as the caravan of cars of the Organization of American States' negotiating team slowly left the rebel zone. Suddenly, out of the darkness, a rebel civilian, brandishing a rifle, stopped a correspondent. The reporter stepped back nervously, but the rebel was insistent. "Tell me," he demanded, "how did Marichal do today in the All-Star Game?"
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August 09, 1965

The Latins Storm Las Grandes Ligas

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Among Latins. Cubans have the reputation for being fussy and noisy extroverts who are quick to address a new acquaintance by the intimate t� instead of the formal usted. Pompez says, "The Cubans are what you call happy-go-lucky, felicianos. The ones who give me the most trouble are the Cuban boys. They are not bad in their hearts. They are very alive." Patsy Alvarez, part Cuban himself, sighs in mock despair when Cuban players pile into El Rancho. "They blow their tops," he says. "So I go to them and I say, 'Yentlemen, control yourself! Have a beer on Al Lopez!' "

Dominicans are more reserved and formal, even though their politics may be tumultuous. But beisbol rates ahead of politics any day. "People put baseball even before food," says a rebel leader in dismay. "When the winter season is on here you can't get them away from the ball parks or their transistors. If this had been the winter baseball season, this revolution would not have lasted a week." Despite whatever measures the OAS may take, both warring factions in Santo Domingo are literally counting on the winter league to start in October to give a provisional government a breathing spell. Rafael Trujillo, the late strongman, used baseball to divert the masses. Once he cabled his ambassador at the United Nations that he wanted to hire Canel to broadcast Dominican ball-games, no matter what the cost. Canel declined.

If it had not been for politics, Marichal probably would have been a Yankee instead of a Giant. Professor Jos� Seda of the University of Puerto Rico visited the Dominican Republic on a scouting trip for New York and saw two outstanding young prospects, Pedro Gonzales and Marichal. He wanted to sign both of them, but he was bluntly told that although he could have Gonzales for the Yankees, Marichal at that time had been promised to the Escogido club by a devoted fan, Ramfis Trujillo, the dictator's son.

The great baseball rivalry in the Dominican Republic is between Escogido and Licey. Don Hoak, the former third baseman who is now broadcasting Pirate games, recalls that he played for Escogido in 1955, after being on the World Champion Dodgers. Inasmuch as Hoak had a Series share in hand, he demanded almost impossible terms from the Dominicans, including a handsome salary to be paid in advance and participation limited to only 30 games. Escogido agreed, and the team did very well. After every victory in which Hoak played, he was draped with flowers by enthusiastic fans. "We won the pennant in the 30th game I played in," Hoak says. "I didn't know there was a playoff after the pennant, and so I got on an airplane to go home. The plane started to warm up, but then the pilot cut the engines. A man from General Trujillo's office came on board and said, 'The general wants to see you.' I went with him. The general asked me, 'Where do you think you're going?' I told him I was going home. He said, "No you're not. You're going to play.' I played."

Puerto Ricans are as reserved as Dominicans but more sensitive to slights. "They are sensitive in that they hurt easily," says Canel. "But then they are very quick to forgive." With Cuba out of professional ball, Puerto Rico now plays about the best brand. Puerto Ricans follow their major league countrymen very closely, and so do Puerto Ricans in New York, who revel in the achievements of Clemente, Cepeda and other Boricuas. Interest in baseball is so intense among New York's 800,000 Latins that there are more than 30 Spanish-speaking leagues in the city. In Brooklyn there is la liga Luis Olmo, named for the old Dodger, and there are other leagues named for Roberto Clemente, Julian Javier and Perucho Cepeda, the father of Orlando and a man who is held in esteem back home as the Babe Ruth of the island.

Virgin Islanders, properly speaking, are not Latins—the U.S. and Great Britain each own a part—but in the majors they generally associate with the Latins or American Negroes. Ballplayers are much esteemed in the islands. The Virgins have a population of only 38,000, but they have 18 players in organized ball in the States, the highest per capita of any country anywhere. Valmy Thomas, former Giant catcher, is still almost as much of a celebrity as he was when Government House gave him a reception and St. Croix declared a holiday. Unlike Latins, Virgin Islanders are not temperamental but the opposite, unflappable. They have an almost Oriental imperturbability, are closemouthed and speak softly, when they do speak. "I got kidded about my British accent," says Al McBean. "It made me angry. But pretty soon I could see that they didn't mean anything bad."

In Venezuela and Panama players are equally celebrated. The one country that does not put players on a pedestal is Mexico, which supplies very few players to begin with. Mexico has a population of 39 million, but only a few players have made the big leagues. Reasons advanced by baffled scouts include poor diet, interest in other sports and homesickness. One of the rare Mexicans to make the majors is Ruben Amaro, the Phillies shortstop, who, it happens, is half Cuban. "No professional sport is as highly regarded in Mexico as it is in the U.S.," says Amaro. "A doctor, a lawyer, an engineer has more respect than any baseball player. I have a brother here who is a doctor, and everywhere we go people say, 'This is Ruben Amaro's brother.' But back home, when people see me, they say, 'Ah, there goes Dr. Amaro's brother.' "

Interest in baseball in South America follows a sort of sociological isobar along the borders of Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. This month Pomp is off to Colombia to scout an infielder he likes. In fact, the day may soon come when Pomp tours Brazil and countries even farther south for major league material. The march of the new conquistadores has just begun.

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